The economic cost of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the GCC this year will reach US$36 billion – one-and-a-half times of official healthcare spending, according to a new study.
Failure by governments to act on curbing NCDs such as cardiovascular illnesses, cancer, respiratory diseases and diabetes would mean the burden could rise to $68bn by 2022, the management consultancy Booz & Company said in its report.
The costs are a reminder of the heavy toll exerted by sedentary lifestyles and unhealthy diets on the GCC’s societies and economies.
“The result is that NCDs have become the leading causes of death and disability, thus making the GCC one of the regions worst affected by the global increase in chronic diseases,” said Gabriel Chahine, a partner with Booz. “This trend is projected to result in NCDs causing over three-quarters of all deaths globally by 2030, up from 63 per cent in 2008, with significant cost implications for healthcare systems.”
Cases of NCDs or chronic diseases have shot up in the Arabian Gulf in the past generation in tandem with advances in the region’s economy. As an example, a study completed in June in Abu Dhabi found that one in three children was overweight or obese and at risk of diabetes and hypertension.
Booz said the prevalence of NCDs had risen to “epidemic” levels, becoming the leading cause of death in the GCC. The cost of the diseases was undermining gains elsewhere in society from economic advancement, it said.
Such dseases hurt the economy by reducing the size and productivity of the labour market. Direct costs were linked to the treatment of patients. More significantly, the indirect cost involved diminished output from shorter life expectancy and more worker sick days. Illnesses could also take a toll on the output of the families of patients.
Governments in the GCC have been investing in upgrading healthcare treatments, including technology and expertise, in an effort to better fight diseases including diabetes, asthma and cancer.
In 2011, overall public and private healthcare spending in the UAE was Dh36bn. The Ministry of Health expects this figure to rise to Dh40bn by 2015.
“With risk factors growing and healthcare budgets already under strain, GCC governments need to sound the alarm within their societies and embark upon national programmes to stem the NCD epidemic,” said Jad Bitar, a partner with Booz.
“The goal of national programmes that combat NCDs should be to disseminate positive behavioural messages that educate the population about imminent health risks, rather than to simply defensively focus on restraining the growing incidence of chronic diseases.”